Friday, December 25, 2009

best wishes

another tradition that i just found out about has to do specifically with roma.  each year at christmas and new year's roma children (not everywhere, but in many/most places) go around and wish people good things in the coming year (i think it would be very much like giving people blessings for the coming year).  in exchange, the children receive (at least here) a koláčky ("little cake" or sweets, cookies, etc.) and a little money (about 30 cents when i witnessed it). 

it reminds me of halloween (without the costumes) and carolers (with the money and sweets), but mainly carolers.  we never had many carolers growing up, except one very special christmas day night when they saved christmas for me, but that most/many carolers sang (at least in the past when it all began) in exchange for money/food for them or for some sort of charity (i googled it).  anyway, that's how caroling started, so then i see the clear connection between roma children going around with christmas blessings in exchange for sweets and a little money.

the thing is, i'm not sure how i feel about it.  ok, i'm an outsider, but to me it seems a bit questionable for little kids to go around asking for money.  it seems to make them a charity case, depending on the generosity of strangers without much, if any power themselves.  but then, these kids get some sweets and money.  and do the kids have a say in it or are they told to do it and so they do it?  when the kids i saw came to us, i knew a few of them and they seemed either embarrassed or shy (i couldn't really tell which).  and then, there's always the very good possibility that i'm trying to overanalyze the situation.  thoughts?  i'd love to get some feedback on this...

christmas blessings

ok, i feel like i keep talking about blessings, but they play a big role here, specifically in regards to religious life.  so, here goes, another blessing that i want to adopt for my future christmases.  in this area (slovakia as well as the czech republic and probably several other countries) vianoce (christmas) is on the 24th.  though technically it's called štedrý večer and the 25th is called vianoce, in references to christmas, the 24th is the big day.  so, last night, what did we do?  we had church (with a children's program as a part of it), then a big dinner (normally lunch is the big meal), then presents, clean-up, prayers, and bed.  i want to focus on what we did right before dinner, though.

before dinner, we did something that is a tradition from monika's hometown of sliezsko in the czech republic, which is lámanie oplátok, or breaking of wafers.  we each received big wafers (about the size of the big one that they break for communion in catholic churches, but made specifically for christmas and a bit thinner and definitely tastier).  then, we all got up from the table and went around to each other and wished each other merry christmas and blessings for the new year, for life, for christmas, for whatever we wanted.  once a pair blessed each other, each person broke off a piece of the other's wafer and ate it.

simple, i know.  but how cool is it to start the dinner off, with grace and blessings all around?  soemtimes i feel that in the states we show our love so much through gifts received that that is all our love becomes.  (i'm not saying giving gifts is bad.  believe me, i'm really excited about the juggling balls and spevnik (hymnal) and other stuff i got for christmas.  i just mean that that should not be the only way we express love)  it is so powerful and meaningful to me, though to shake/hold hands and verbally bless each other and sincerely wish the best for the other person, and, of course, to hug:)  i do wish we gave more sincere blessings in the states.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

birthday blessings

so, yesterday we had our first "romsky dorast," or roma youth group, since my birthday.  fraňa, the leader, had mentioned that she wanted to celebrate my birthday with the group, so that is what we did yesterday.  i made a "kolač," which was really brownies, but it worked as a cake:)  we sang songs, as usual, and had cake and soda and chips.  then we played a game where four people had to answer different questions about me and the united states.  it was really fun.  then, what really meant a lot to me was what fraňa did next.  on behalf of everybody in dorast, she shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and heaped on me birthday blessings and gave me a birthday gift.

in slovakia, for a birthday, instead of simply saying happy birthday like we do in the states, the typical phrase is "všetko najlepši k tvojom narodeninom"  (i think i spelled that right) it basically translates as everything/all the best for your birthday.  that's the short phrase, anyway.  if you're saying it in person and not on facebook, then it becomes a time to hold hands, look each other in the eye and (for the birthday person) feel extremely humbled as the other person wishes you not only all the best, but much love, joy, happiness, health, children, and anything else they can think of.

in the states, if somebody congratulates you are compliments you, the general reaction is to look down as if you don't deserve it, which (as i learned at camp) can prevent you from hearing what's being said.  the challenge, then, is to meet their eyes.  to look someone in the eye and humbly receive their blessing and love.

how amazing would it be if, instead of giving each other presents and going back to our work, we heaped blessings of love onto each other?  there is no way i could have felt more blessed last night than to hold fraňa's hand and receive an incredible and loving blessing from her, and all of the dorast group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


so, i emailed my friend the other day about some of the stuff i was thinking about and experiencing here and she said it made her think of the poem "women" by alice walker.  she sent it to me and i agreed.  so, i'm sharing with you this poem.  it reminds me of many people i know here.  as always, i'd love to know what you think!

"Women" by Alice Walker

They were women then

My mamma's generation

Husky of voice--Stout of


With fists as well as


How they battered down


And ironed

Starched white


How they led


Headragged Generals

Across mined




To discover books


A place for us

How they knew what we

Must know

Without knowing a page

Of it


Monday, December 7, 2009

svätý mikuláš

so, yesterday was the day of svätý mikuláš, or st. nicholas as we know him in the states.  in slovakia there are a lot of similarities between sv. mikuláš and santa claus.  both come bearing gifts and wear big red suits or outfits and have white hair and beard.  in otherwords, they're both old guys in red suits with gifts for kids.  that is about where the comparison ends. 

though both santa and sv. mikuláš have their origins in the actual saint nicholas, the united states, with its rampant commercialism has strayed quite a bit farther from the original idea of the man we know in history as nicholas.  we have strayed so much that, in fact, many (or perhaps even most) people don't know that santa claus is based in a real person, or that that person, nicholas, is an important person in church history.

here, sv. mikuláš is still portrayed in drawings as an "average" sized person (not as much, though still some when he comes to life, of the big belly and abundance that appears in the states) with a priest's outfit (though still red and white), a hat similar to what i think of when i think of the pope's big hat with a cross on it, and a bible in his hands.  the bible, i think, is the key difference.  it puts the focus back on why sv. mikuláš did/does what he did/does.  he is following the path of god as found and understood in the bible.

another difference is in what sv. mikuláš brings in comparison with what santa brings.  in the states, for my family at least, santa filled our stockings with little goodies and then also brought big presents.  we did leave the customary cookies (or leftover birthday cake) and when i was little i remember many years of leaving toys that we no longer played with for him to give to other kids (a tradition that i plan on continuing some day). 

here, sv. mikuláš is not nearly as extravagant.  in the morning we (me and the kids) got a little bag of candies.  the kids also got to go to the village office/mayor's office for another bag of candies, but that is about as elaborate as it ever got.  it's not about big gifts, it's about a little something to brighten your day.  a little treat, but nothing that will give you a stomach ache if you eat it all at once.

i greatly appreciate the simpler version of jolly, old st. nicholas, especially with the more explicit connection to the actual historical person.  it's been fun to be in on experiencing some of the many joys and traditions of this time of year in slovakia, and i'm looking forward to many more:)

blessings to you in this time of joyful expectation.

Friday, December 4, 2009

drawing god

so, one of my tasks here is to draw the pracovný list (worksheet) each week for our religion classes.  as you might guess, this occasionally involves drawing god.  now, i don't know about you, but i have no idea what god actually looks like.  yes, we could probably just draw jesus (not that i really know what he looks like, except that he probably didn't have blonde hair or blue eyes, as he is often portrayed), but jesus and god are not exactly the same thing.  i am also hesitant to draw god just as some guy.  this is largely due to not wanting to give god a specific gender, but is also because we are created in the image of god, not god in our image.

i feel that oftentimes, we get drawn into thinking that god is like us, rather than that we can be like god.  if god is like us, then the focus and power (unintentionally, perhaps) rests with us, but if we are made in god's image, then we have the potential to be good and holy.  we have something to strive for, some greater good that can help us to be better.  if we are made in god's image, we can draw comfort from that and inspiration.

so, how, then, do you draw god for kids who want something to color in while you talk to them about god?  well, a lot of times i leave god out of the picture.  just as in life, god is there, but not necessarily physically present.  or, sometimes we just forget about god and think that god's not there.  we put god out of the picture.  this is clearly not the best option, but it definitely happens sometimes.

other times, i make it seem like god is shining from just off the paper, so there are little rays of light on the paper, but still no god.  this is better than the previous option, after all, at least we have a general location and reference for god.  it is not, however, ideal.  we still don't have god directly in the picture.  so how can we put god in the picture?  well, we must find a way to draw god.

in the most recent worksheet i drew, the theme was god is holy (boh je svätý)  it had to do with a dream isaiah had in which seraphim are around god (who is on a throne) with six wings, two covering their eyes, two their faces, and the other two are making them fly.  the seraphim are singing "holy, holy, holy is god."

now, how do you draw this?  well, obviously you need god and some seraphim and maybe an isaiah sleeping.  monika made a basic sketch of what she was thinking and we talked about it.  she had drawn basically a ball of light and a head for god.  when i asked about it, she said that it could be without the head, just a ball of light, too, she had just drawn the head as a way to know what it was.  in the end we had isaiah sleeping and in his dream bubble, we had two angels (with six wings each) singing " svätý, svätý, svätý je boh" with god in the middle as a ball of light on a throne.

cop-out?  maybe.  consistent with my theology? yes.  we don't know what god looks like and monika and i may or may not (we haven't actually talked about it, specifically) have very different thoughts on what god might look like, but we both know that we really don't know.  so, we draw light.  i am hesitant to use the light/darkness metaphor, except that if we count light (the pure white kind) as a combination of all the colors, than i really like it.  white/light, or god, is what happens when we all come together.

so, how do you draw god?  any thoughts?  any other ideas of how to draw god?  let me know!